Please describe your current role?
I joined Graphite Capital as an Investment Manager in 2009, was promoted to Investment Director in 2013 and was then made a Partner in 2016. My role encompasses all aspects of the investment cycle, from origination and deal execution, to managing an investment through to its exit. I primarily focus on the Healthcare and Business Services sectors, and currently sit on the board of three portfolio companies: YSC Consulting (the leading independent global provider of leadership consulting and management assessment services), City & County Healthcare (the largest independent home care services provider in the UK) and PTPG (manufacturer of timber windows and doors). I have been fortunate to participate in the fundraising processes for Graphite’s last two funds, giving me a greater exposure to and understanding of our investor base, which is extremely valuable.
What attracted you to a career in private equity and how did you get started?
I started my career as a strategy consultant at LEK Consulting. LEK has a strong focus on providing commercial due diligence for private equity transactions which is what first opened my eyes to the world of private equity. I was attracted to the diversity of a career in private equity. Not only would it enable me to use my consultancy skills in evaluating the attractiveness of a company, its markets and its business plan, but it would give me the opportunity to actually work with management teams to help shape and implement a company’s long term growth strategy. I was also attracted by the strong ‘people’ focus of private equity. You get to meet and work with some very inspirational entrepreneurs, managers and advisors on a daily basis, which makes the job extremely fulfilling. Furthermore, the ability to assess the quality of a management team and to develop strong and open relationships with them is critical to the success of an investment.
What advice would you give women interested in a career in private equity?
The world of private equity is evolving and increasingly embracing the ‘Diversity & Inclusion’ agenda. While men still dominate roles, especially at the senior level, they increasingly appreciate and value the skill set that women bring to the table. This should hopefully encourage more women to consider a career in private equity. For anyone already at that point, I would recommend speaking with investment executives (male and female) across the industry to better understand what working within private equity requires and the various roles that exist. For example, some private equity houses require investment executives to focus entirely on transactions, with limited involvement in the management of investments and their exit process. Do your research into the differences between private equity firms, especially in terms of a fund’s size, investment strategy, performance and, most significantly, its culture – no two funds are ever the same! It might also be valuable to seek out one or two senior women within private equity who will be able to share their specific experiences and success stories of how they have managed to climb to the top of their field. Above all though, have the confidence to embrace your ambition and be yourself!
What do you think it will take to improve the gender gap in private equity and do you think we will see significant change in the coming years?
From my own experience, one of the main challenges in recruiting women into the sector is not actually having enough female applicants! The quality of the women who do apply is typically outstanding, but we are talking about a mere handful of CVs. I do not believe there is one specific reason for this, but rather a myriad of misconceptions (including macho cultures and impossibly long working hours), all of which lead women to believe that a career in PE is either unattractive and/or unsustainable in the long-term, especially if they are considering starting a family at some point in the future. We need to work hard to overcome any misconceptions and publicise the attractions of a career not just in private equity, but in finance in general, educating women at the university, and even college level (as Level 20 are doing). In the last three to four years there appears to have been a notable rise in the number of women joining the sector at the junior level. This is a very encouraging trend and we need to work hard to ensure we retain these women. Key to the latter will be the commitment of private equity funds to support women in their long term career and development goals, especially as their family circumstances change.
Please comment on anything else you would like to say to the Level 20 members (e.g. if you wish, any thoughts around managing work-life balance)
Developing a career in private equity, whilst also being a mother, is both rewarding and challenging. While I’m unfortunately yet to be convinced that “women can have it all”, I do firmly believe that, in the correct working environment, you can combine professional success with a real commitment to your family, as long as you have sufficient support both at home and in the workplace. For me this has been made easier by having a degree of control over my working day, which includes something as simple as being able to work from home in an evening once the children are in bed. Having frequent and honest conversations with colleagues around expectations, including where, when and how work will be done, is also key to making it work.
I would also highly recommend a Maternity Coach for anyone either going on or returning from maternity leave. I have been fortunate enough to have a coach for my second maternity leave and have definitely seen a huge positive difference in my confidence and mindset around returning to work. I was not aware of maternity coaching until we invested in YSC Consulting, who employ a number of coaches specifically in this area.